Monday, 18 April 2011

Justifying my methodology

What's the relationship of realism to positivism and interpretivism?
thus asked my mock examiner. So I went back to reread Tsoukas (1994) on realist perspectives and have again sunk in the mire of methodological approaches, perspectives, philosophies and epistemologies.

This web site has a nice diagram of the overlap between the three approaches or perspectives or ontologies.
  • Realism overlaps positivism in that it accepts social structures have independent existences. "Like positivism, realism accepts social structures have some form of independent existence that is experienced as ‘external' to individuals. These structures act upon us - pressurising and constraining our behaviour."
  • Realism overlaps interpretivism in that what we regard as real is significant. "Like interpretivism, realism accepts that what we regard as real is highly significant. E.g. if I believe myself to be middle class, while every indicator of social class holds I am working class, this will have important consequences for my behaviour."
For my research on engagement,
social phenomena exist whether or not people are aware of them so engagement can be taken as a real phenomenon even if people are not aware of it. It still exists and affects their actions.

Critical realism is an epistemological (not a research or sociological) perspective that responds to critisism of the positivist perspective. "It's a response", says Mingers, "to the difficulty of maintaining a realist position in the face of criticisms" (page 380). My erudite supervisor tells me that
'the "critical" label comes from the associated idea that such "real" phenomena can however only be known through using conceptual frameworks, so our knowledge of these real phenomena is always provisional, or subject to challenge when new concepts come along. So knowledge of this real social world has to be held "critically".'
Critical realism is "a way of resolving or dissolving" issues around positivism and extreme constructivist positions {Mingers, 2004: 374}.

Mingers, J. 2004. Real-Izing Information Systems: Critical Realism as an Underpinning Philosophy for Information Systems. Information and Organization, 14(2): 87-103.
Tsoukas, H. 1994. What Is Management? An Outline of a Metatheory. British Journal of Management, 5(4): 289.

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